From Sudan to Maine, in free verse.
It's 1999 in Juba, and the second Sudanese civil war is in full swing. Viola is a Bari girl, and she lives every day in fear of the government soldiers occupying her town. In brief free-verse chapters, Viola makes Juba real: the dusty soil, the memories of sweetened condensed milk, the afternoons Viola spends braiding her cousin's hair. But there is more to Juba than family and hunger; there are the soldiers, and the danger, and the horrifying interactions with soldiers that Viola doesn't describe but only lets the reader infer. As soon as possible, Viola's mother takes the family to Cairo and then to Portland, Maine—but they won't all make it. First one and then another family member is brought down by the devastating war and famine. After such a journey, the culture shock in Portland is unsurprisingly overwhelming. "Portland to New York: 234 miles, / New York to Cairo: 5,621 miles, / Cairo to Juba: 1,730 miles." Viola tries to become an American girl, with some help from her Sudanese friends, a nice American boy and the requisite excellent teacher. But her mother, like the rest of the Sudanese elders, wants to run her home as if she were back in Juba, and the inevitable conflict is heartbreaking.
Refreshing and moving: avoids easy answers and saviors from the outside. (historical note) (Fiction. 13-15)